On Tuesday this week, six provincial departmental budget votes went ahead without the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) eight members of the provincial legislature.
It was as though the EFF had never entered the political scene: with the only Inkatha Freedom Party member of the house apologising for not attending the sitting, and a few members of the executive committee sending apologies for leaving the sitting early, it was up to the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) members of the legislature (MPL) to debate the matters that arose.
The EFF has refused to be part of the Gauteng legislature’s proceedings unless they can wear their uniforms – overalls and domestic workers’ uniforms – missing key budget vote debates in the process.
Now, on Thursday morning, the rules committee of the legislature will meet to decide the fate of the EFF members of the house and their overalls – and the party has promised mass protests if the acting speaker, Uhuru Moiloa, rules against its sartorial ambitions.
Meanwhile, just two months after being elected to the legislature, with eight of its members drawing salaries from state funds, the party appears to be operating independently of it, undertaking its own oversight measures in the province. Trust, say EFF members, has completely broken down between the speaker’s office and the new house entrants, raising concerns about the party’s effectiveness in the legislature.
This follows an incident on July 22, when hundreds of EFF members stormed the legislature in an effort to hand over a memorandum to Moiloa. And on July 1, police forcibly removed the EFF members from the legislature for refusing to leave after speaker Ntombi Mekgwe, who is currently on leave, deemed their outfits “unparliamentary”.
Cops on high alert
The building has been under heavy police guard since the EFF stormed the legislature. Rolls of barbed wire stand ready to be deployed outside the venue, and tactical response team vehicles surround the building. Police and private security guards man the exits and entrances.
The party says it has been barred from entering the building by the police, and this is why it has been unable to attend the sittings since the spat over its uniforms began. But a source with intimate knowledge of legislature proceedings, who asked to remain anonymous, said that a programme committee meeting was held on Tuesday morning and an EFF member was present.
He also said the party’s office staff were present in the legislature, even though their MPLs were not in the house. According to EFF’s caucus leader, Mgcini Tshwaku, the party wanted the rules committee to meet urgently to make a ruling on whether or not the party’s MPLs could wear their overalls and domestic workers’ clothing. This was to avoid missing the crucial budget votes, he said.
A meeting was scheduled, but was later postponed, as members of the legislature had other commitments. It was rescheduled to Thursday this week.
At issue is the fact that Mekgwe and others see the asijiki insignia on the overalls as political party insignia. The Gauteng legislature rules only require that members are dressed “appropriately” – but, according to insiders, political party regalia has been banned for several years.
“The precedent actually comes from an incident when an ANC member wore political party regalia during an official legislature event. There was a complaint laid, and the speaker at the time ruled that political party clothing would not be allowed,” said a source.
This is to prevent members from campaigning for their parties with the legislature’s resources, or during official legislature work.
But Mgcini said this week that the asijiki insignia was not a slogan that belonged solely to the EFF, and added that the eight members wore “neat, ironed” overalls, which should be treated as “appropriate” attire.
As the EFF members and police clashed outside the legislature last Tuesday, the legislature heard debates on the budgets of roads and transport, economic development, infrastructure, agriculture, and social development.
E-tolling on Gauteng’s highways and land reform are key pillars of the EFF’s policy, yet it was not in the house to debate these issues.
Last Friday, the house adopted the budget votes for the provincial treasury and the department of finance, as well as the legislature’s own budget and that of the premier’s office. The EFF did not attend.
On Tuesday this week, the legislature held debates on the budgets of the departments of health, education, co-operative governance and traditional affairs, and housing.
Eight empty seats stood between the ANC and DA caucuses inside the house.
Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu announced major refurbishments at several major Gauteng hospitals. She said the Natalspruit Regional Hospital with 821 beds would be opened later this year, while clinics would be planned and constructed at Cosmo City, Kagiso, Randfontein, Khutsong and other areas in the province.
Maternity and neonatal ward lifts would be replaced at three hospitals and the decision to close the Kempton Park and Hillbrow hospitals was now being reviewed.
But the chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, Nompi Nhlapo, said the department’s budget was insufficient to cope with the massive backlog in infrastructure problems at Gauteng hospitals.
DA MPL Jack Bloom raised concerns about the number of “turnaround plans” introduced by the department, year-after-year, that never seemed to be implemented.
But the EFF this week claimed the oversight work that it is doing independent of the legislature is sufficient to make up for its missed time on the job. It is now apparent that the EFF is prepared to work independently of the legislature, although it claims it will endeavour to do this as a last resort.
“They are just rushing the budgets now, maybe so they can get back to handing out tenders or whatever, but we have been asking very serious questions in there. I think in time you will see we’ve been doing our own oversight. We are going to go to Tembisa soon to monitor a hospital there, and I think we will need to donate beds, as the EFF, to Helen Joseph Hospital,” he said.
Mgcini said that the EFF had a mandate from its voters to accurately represent the poor and disenfranchised in the legislature, and viewed wearing any other attire as “selling out”.
“The issue of the overalls is just one of those things that we can’t let go,” he said.